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Navigating Zoom Fatigue : Understanding and Managing Virtual Meeting Exhaustion

Since the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020, Zoom video teleconferences started becoming the new normal for many working professionals. Zoom and other forms of videoconferencing apps have gained popularity and people in remote work and online learning started adopting them. However, videoconferencing has turned out to be more exhausting than face-to-face meetings, and a new phenomenon has come into existence named, “Zoom fatigue”.

Zoom Fatigue: What Is It?

Zoom fatigue is tiredness, burnout, or exhaustion associated with the overuse of online platforms for communication, especially videotelephony.(1) The term “Zoom fatigue” has been derived from the videoconferencing software ‘Zoom”, however, the term can be used to refer to fatigue caused by other video conferencing platforms, including Google Meet, Skype, or Microsoft Teams.

The term gained popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic when the use of videoconferencing software became common because of the effects of widespread lockdowns and isolation.(2)

Is It For Real?

Sometimes many of us feel completely drained while logging out of the last Zoom meeting for the day. A lot of people deal with Zoom fatigue, which refers to the exhaustion that one feels after any sort of video conference or video call. Although it is not a formal diagnosis, Zoom fatigue is real.

A lot of the fatigue or exhaustion comes due to the increased cognitive demands of video conferencing communication. Let us take a closer look at what studies say about Zoom fatigue.

What Study Says About Zoom Fatigue?

Study That Suggests Zoom and Other Videoconferencing Related to Zoom Fatigue

Zoom fatigue is a unique state of exhaustion reported by people who feel burnout after video calls. A recent brain-monitoring study supports this phenomenon and has found a link between videoconferencing in education settings and physical symptoms associated with fatigue.(3)

The study, published in the journal “Scientific Reports” included 35 students attending lectures on engineering at an Austrian University and looked for physiological signs of fatigue in these students. Half of the class attended lectures via videoconference in a nearby laboratory and a face-to-face lecture the following week, while the other half did the reverse, i.e. attended first in person, and then online.

Participants were monitored with EEG and ECG instruments that recorded electrical activity in the brain and their heart rhythms. They were also asked about their mood and fatigue levels.

The researchers looked for physical changes correlated with mental fatigue, which included distinctive brain waves, reduced heart rate, and hints their nervous system would be trying to compensate for growing exhaustion during the lecture.

Significant differences between the in-person and online groups were found. It was found that video participants’ fatigue mounted throughout the session and the state of their brains showed they were struggling to concentrate. It was also found that the participants in this group also experienced a variance in their mood. Online participants felt drowsy, tired, and fed-up, while in-person participants reported feeling happier, livelier, and more active.

Studies That Do Not Support the Link Between Videoconferencing and Zoom Fatigue Strongly

Some studies also suggest that Zoom or other videoconferencing is not likely to be the only cause of Zoom fatigue.

A 2021 study by Gothenburg and Standford researchers involved over 2, 700 participants and it found that longer Zoom meetings were not the online cause of fatigue experienced by them.(4) Simply disliking the use of Zoom could also be a reason for feeling exhausted by it.

A Per Research Center study that surveyed 10, 000 workers in October 2020 has shown that fewer than four in ten said that they were worn out by videoconferencing.(5) A follow-up study conducted in January 2022, showed that one in four workers said they were worn out.(6)

What Causes Zoom Fatigue?

Constantly Seeing Yourself During Video Chats/Conferences in Real-Time is Fatiguing

When we see a reflection of ourselves, we are more critical of ourselves. Now, many of us are seeing ourselves on video chats for several hours a day. This could be stressful and it could negatively impact us.

Too Much of Close-up Eye Contact Are Highly Intense

The amount of eye contact along with the size of faces we see on screens is quite intense and unnatural. In a normal real meeting, we look at the speaker, take notes, or look somewhere else. However, on Zoom calls, everyone is looking at everyone, all the time. The amount of eye contact increases dramatically. This could be the cause of Zoom fatigue for sure.

Videoconferencing Reduces Our Usual Mobility

In-person conferences or conversations allow us to walk around and move. But with videoconferencing, most of us get fixed to a place and talk to someone over video calls. Thus, our movement is limited. This can hamper our cognitive performance.

The Cognitive Load is Higher in Video calls/Video Chats

Nonverbal communication is pretty natural in regular face-to-face interaction, and each of us naturally makes and interprets nonverbal cues and gestures subconsciously. But in video calls or video chats, we need to work harder to send and receive signals. This adds cognitive load.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Zoom Fatigue

Work-based exhaustion, especially in the working population is nothing new.(7) However, videoconferencing can be more pathetic and lead to Zoom fatigue. Signs of Zoom fatigue include:

  • Forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating
  • Frustration and irritability with co-workers
  • Difficulty maintaining relationships.
  • Tiresomeness and tensions.
  • Physical symptoms like pain, muscle tension, fatigue, and insomnia.(8)

How to Cope With Zoom Fatigue?

Turn Off Your Videos if Not Necessary

Switch on the video on videoconferencing only when necessary. Keeping videos off will help you feel tense. If only an audio call would work in the conference, then just go for it.

Feel Okay to Take Mini-Breaks

Sometimes you might feel the need to take a break while video conferencing. If you have longer Zoom calls, take mini-breaks by simply consulting with your co-workers. You can also switch off your video and move a bit in the room itself.

Final Words

Zoom fatigue is something for real and people who are into remote jobs face this problem. Zoom calls or other video conferencing apps put a lot of pressure on the mind and cause significant stress and fatigue. So, it is best to find out your means to cope with it and lessen the pressure of Zoom calls.

References:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:December 2, 2023

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